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Edmund Spenser and the Strength card

October 23, 2011

So my husband collects coins.  I get emails from some companies showing interesting coins that they want me to buy for him.  The one that caught my eye today is this one.

Switzerland 2002 Shooting Thaler - Zurich Shooting Festival - Helvetia as Una and The Lion 50 Francs Taler Silver Proof

This coin reminded me of the Strength card in Tarot.  After digging around, the coin depicts the story of Una and the lion from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, an incomplete allegorical poem written in praise of Queen Elisabeth I in the late 1500s.   In the poem, a princess trying to aid her imprisoned parents, falls a sleep in the wilderness.  A lion finds her and at first wants to eat her but is overcome by her beauty and innocence.  So he instead vows to protect her.

“It fortuned, out of the thickest Wood
A ramping Lion rushed suddenly,
Hunting full greedy after salvage Blood.
Soon as the Royal Virgin he did spy,
With gaping Mouth at her ran greedily,
To have at once devour’d her tender Corse:
But to the Prey when as he drew more nigh,
His bloody Rage assuaged with Remorse,
And with the sight amaz’d, forgat his furious force.

Instead thereof he kiss’d her weary Feet,
And lick’d her lilly Hands with fauning Tongue.
As he her wronged Innocence did weet.
O! how can Beauty master the most strong,
And simple Truth subdue avenging Wrong!
Whose yielded Pride, and proud Submission,
Still dreading Death, when she had marked long,
Her Heart ‘gan melt in great Compassion,
And drizling Tears did shed for pure Affection.

The Lion, Lord of every Beast in Field,
Quoth she, his princely Puissance doth abate,
And mighty Proud to humble Weak does yield,
Forgetful of the hungry Rage, which late
Him prick’d, in pity of my sad Estate;
But he my Lion, and my noble Lord,
How does he find in cruel Heart to hate
Her that him lov’d, and ever most ador’d,
As the God of my Life? Why hath he me abhor’d?

Redounding Tears did choke th’ end of her Plaint,
Which softly echoed from the neighbour Wood;
And sad to see her sorrowful Constraint,
The kingly Beast upon her gazing stood;
With pity calm’d, down fell his angry Mood…

The Lion would not leave her desolate,
But with her went along, as a strong guard
Of her chaste Person, and a faithful Mate
Of her sad Troubles and Misfortunes hard:
Still when she slept, he kept both Watch and Ward;
And when she wak’d, he waited diligent,
With humble Service to her Will prepar’d:
From her fair Eyes he took Commaundement,
And ever by her Looks conceived her Intent.”

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen, Book I – Canto III

Which left me wondering, how much Mr. Spenser knew about tarot.  I do not have the time or a clear head to research this at the moment but it is an interesting thought which I figured I’d share.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. henadology permalink
    October 23, 2011 11:43 AM

    I *love* the Faerie Queen, one of my favorite books.


  2. woley permalink
    October 23, 2011 3:11 PM

    I think lions were quite prevalent in emlems and legends. Several images in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia are reminiscent of this image too.

    The lion is often associated with Christ, and in different societies stands for protection, so not too much of a stretch for Spenser to offer the lion as a protector.

    Nice though, reminds me of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, most definitely a stand-in for Christ there.


    • October 23, 2011 3:35 PM

      Oh yes. Lions have always been a popular motif. Kybele in Phrygia was often seen flanked by them. But what makes this interesting is the idea of a woman taming a lion hungry for the meat on her bones…just as is often seen depicted on the Strength card in tarot. Since the Christian religion is steeped in throwing aside things such as tarot, to find the story so prevalent is rather interesting. If anything I would have thought that such an obvious comparison would have been avoided if for no other reason than the wish to keep one’s head in such politically and religiously difficult times of Protestant vs. Catholic.


  3. livingbetweenchapters permalink
    March 10, 2016 11:41 AM

    I’m studying Spenser for my degree, and in canto xii there is a lot of imagery which alludes to the cups, in particular the ace of cups, signifying new beginnings etc, and he dashes it down, showing that he is not swayed by romantic attachment, and remains faithful to god

    Liked by 1 person

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